26 Jul 2017 19:16 IST

‘Challenge yourself to do something out of your comfort zone’

Pursue your passion, Ajay Piramal tells over 600 students at the Great Lakes convocation in Chennai

A sunny Wednesday morning in late July saw more than 600 smartly dressed students gather at the Chennai Convention Centre. The air was filled with laughter, excitement and nostalgia as friends exchanged banter and proud parents looked on.

This was the convocation for students of Great Lakes Institute of Management, where the PGPM (class of 2017), PGDM (2015-17), Executive PG programme in management, and PGPM-Flex (2014-16) graduated, and were awarded degrees.

Before the Dean, Dr Bala V Balachandran, declared the convocation open, a procession of professors, led by associate Dean Vaidy Jayaraman, walked to the dais amidst applause and much cheering from the students.

Creating wealth

Addressing the audience, Dr Bala said: “Folks, you’ve got jobs. Today, you’re getting a degree. But that is only the necessary condition for success. What is more important is what we do from now on.” Talking about the fast-changing world of business and technology, he said the fourth industrial revolution is imminent. But, he said, “If you are learning for life and not just studying for an examination, no matter what shake-down happens, it won’t shatter you.” He ended his speech by inspiring students to “Create jobs rather than consume jobs, and create wealth rather than consume wealth.”

He then went on to introduce the guests of honour, Ajay Piramal, Chairman of Piramal and Shriram Group, and John FO Bilson, Dean of Stuart Business School, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago (IIT).


‘I will and I can’

His talk peppered with anecdotes and valuable lessons, Ajay Piramal had the students listening in rapt attention to everything he had to say. “I graduated from Jai Hind College in Mumbai. One thing I remember, most distinctly, was our principal telling us about the motto of the college: ‘I will and I can’. It wasn’t ‘I can and I will’ but the other way around, and that significance of those words is important. And that to me, has been my motto that is underlined in whatever I’ve done today,” he recounted.

Quoting from the Upanishads — “You are what your deep driving desire is” — he stressed the importance of finding out what your deepest desires are. That is the first lesson. “You must find your deep driving desire, which will then become your will. This ‘will’ will turn out to be your determination, leading to a deed, that is action.”

“When you convert your desire into a determined action, you form your destiny,” he said.

Speaking slowly and clearly, he charted out a success path that strays away from the usual engineering-MBA-get-a-great-job formula. “At the end of the day, you should do what your passion is. Pursue it, don’t follow others. If your passion isn’t business, you shouldn’t do that.” The world is changing so rapidly that the only way for you to succeed, he urged the students, is to find your passion and just go for it.

Courage and associations

The other main point students should remember as they head into the corporate world, is to have the courage to get out of their comfort zone. “Challenge yourself to do something which is not the normal way of doing it.”

Speaking from his own business experience, he said: “Our family was in the textile business, and it was a difficult time for the industry. While most textile businesses we knew remained in textiles, we decided to venture out and try out some other industry. We entered the pharmaceutical industry and that, in some ways, changed the fortune of our group.” Those who remained in the textile business faded away but because they had the courage to choose a different path they succeeded.

The key is hard work, he said. “I do not know of a single person who is successful and hasn’t worked hard, and who doesn’t keep working hard.”

Equally important is surrounding yourself with good people — friends, advisors, business associates. Life is difficult, he said, and it is these people who will help you stay on the right path in case you veer off course.

Values, priority and faith

Reiterating that changes will keep happening in the business world, he said, “I know from experience that one thing remains constant — values.” He then listed out four values followed by his group — knowledge, action, care, and impact, urging students to be associated with companies that stand for and give importance to values in whatever they do. At the end of the day, values are what create economic value.

Again, giving the example of the Piramal Group, he said, “We have been successful in acquisitions. We’ve done more than a 100. But at all these negotiations, we’ve never offered the highest value. There have always been others who were ready to give better monetary value. If we succeeded despite this, it’s because the company being acquired feels that we uphold values.”

The other quality Piramal urged the students to inculcate is that of prioritisation. Everyone must prioritise what they want in life. “There are only two things people want to do — one, pursue real happiness and two, avoid pain,” listing out the order of priority: health, family, and work.

Faith is another quality he swears by. Giving a moving example, he talked of the time when his 55-year-old father passed away due to heart attack. “I was 24 years old then and it was a big shock to me. We are three brothers, so two of us decided to take over one business, and the other brother took over the second.”

“I still remember we were together on January 1, when we we had the business division. We got textiles. On January 16, there was a big strike that lasted for 18 months. So whatever value was in our business on January 1 — say, 100 — crashed down to 10 in 16 days. To top it off, after six months, my elder brother, who was with me, developed cancer and passed away at the age of 33.”

“So here I was, at the age of 28, managing a troubled business that had 5,000 workers, and managing a family too. So those were the challenges I had to face. But it is because of faith and grace of some other power that I am standing here in front of you today. So please remember with humility that all of us need to have faith.”

“I wish you all the best,” he concluded, eliciting thunderous applause from the audience.